Dietician degree programs
Dieticians, as their title suggests, are professionals in the field of nutrition. They assess clients' dietary goals, develop individualized meal plans, and monitor patient progress. They continually seek out the latest research, but their journey always begins with a formal education. Most dietitians hold bachelor's degrees in dietetics or a related area, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and many also have advanced degrees.
Students who wish to major in dietetics may choose between two types of programs. Didactic programs include only classroom hours during all four years of college, followed by a one-year internship in a clinical setting. Coordinated programs also include classroom study but combine them with the required hours of supervised practice.
Dietician degree programs are firmly rooted in nutritional science, but also incorporate many disparate, ancillary subjects to assist students with the practical side of dietetics. For example, check out the following sample course schedule from nutritionED.org:
- Food sciences
- Anatomy and physiology
- Food service management
- Business and economics
- Culinary arts
Registered dieticians need to understand the nuanced ways in which nutrients affect the human body, but they also need to develop a client base and create approachable, enticing meal plans.
Training to become a dietician
Whether you opt for the coordinated or didactic program, you'll need to complete several hundred hours of training before you can become a practicing dietician, according to nutritionED.org. For students who take the didactic route this phase of training is called the Dietetic Internship, or DI for short. Per the guidelines set by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, all DIs must offer at least 1200 supervised practice hours. A DI can last between eight and twenty-four months and may be completed on a full- or part-time basis.
Each DI has its own unique area of specialization, examples of which provided by nutritionED.org include the following:
- Clinical nutrition research
- Nutrition therapy
- Pediatric nutrition
- Geriatric nutrition
- Sports performance nutrition
- Community nutrition
When applying to internships, be sure to consider whether a DI's emphasis aligns with your own career goals.
Career outlook for dieticians and nutritionists
Recent years have seen a steadily growing interest in the field of nutrition. This generational sea change opens up excellent opportunities for dietitians. In fact, the BLS expects employment of dietitians and nutritionists to increase by 21% over the 2012-2022 decade, a figure that is almost double the national average for all occupations.
The BLS also notes that job prospects may be most favorable for those who hold advanced degrees or are certified in an area of specialization.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dieticians and Nutritionists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
- ExploreHealthCareers, Dietician, http://explorehealthcareers.org
- Dietetic Internship (DI), nutritionED.org, http://www.nutritioned.org/dietetic-internship.html